7 x 7 Link Award

Jaina from Time Well Spent kindly nominated All Eyes on Screen  for a 7×7 Link Award. The award is meant for me to showcase my favorite posts I’ve gotten to write for All Eyes on Screen. Along with the highlighted posts, I will also be nominating 7 other blogs for this award (and for those of you who enjoy reading blogs – I highly recommend these. Please take a few minutes to check them out!) Had it been someone else nominating me, Jaina and her site Time Well Spent easily would have made my awards list. If you don’t get anything else out of this post, please scroll down and check out the sites I listed. They’re each worth a few moments to check out!

The Rules

Rule 1: Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.

Rule 2: Link to one of the posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-Worthy Piece.

Rule 3: Pass this award on to seven other bloggers.

Part 1 – What do you not know about me?

This is a tricky question in and of itself. Most of my blogger friends know movie info about me that no one else knows, while my personal friends/family know all that other stuff that my movie friends do not know. So I kind of feel like I’m in this lose-lose place. OK, enough babbling on my end.

To keep this about movies, I’ll make this little unknown fact about me and my relationship to movies. Growing up, I went to all the popular Disney movies–Toy StoryHerculesThe Lion King, you name it. As I got a little older (think late elementary school age), my private school and church did not support attending movie theaters. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to attend movies for the remaining part of elementary, all of junior high, and high school. Many who grew up with me know all this. The little “secret” is that the first film I attended after close to a decade of not stepping into a theater was  . . . *drum roll* . . .  Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. I had seen the first film on DVD and enjoyed it, and I was blown away by the theater experience all over again–at 16 years old. While I can’t relive all that time I lost, I make up as much of that time as I can, happily attending movies at theaters ever since Spider-Man 2.

Part 2 – Posts on Pedestals

Personally, I have a hard time evaluating which “pieces” I would consider “Most Beautiful” or “Most Underrated.” I almost feel like I’m saying, “Hey, let me tell you why I’m awesome.” The truth is, I haven’t been blogging regularly on film for very long, so it’s difficult to find a post that fits each category well. But to the best of my ability, here are the posts I would choose for the categories stated above.

Most Beautiful Piece – “Backstage Spotlight: The Overlapping Themes of Hugo, The Artist, and Midnight in Paris”

This was the first post that came to my mind when I heard the word “beautiful” because the content I’m talking about is incredibly beautiful. All three films incorporate some certain beauty, Midnight in Paris really being the stand-out for me with it’s gorgeous French backdrop and locations.

Most Helpful Piece – “Sundance in Chicago: 2 Days in New York”

The reason I chose this particular post for “Most Helpful” is that posts by other people I’ve read regarding film festivals/special screenings have been helpful to me in learning about films I never would have heard of if/before they became mainstream. 2 Days in New York was made by a French filmmaker, so it’s likely that the States will hear little of it, most likely for a little while at least. The post is primarily about my experience going to Sundance’s screening in Chicago and the interviews with the cast/director.

Most Popular Piece – “Valentine’s Day Special: Ten Favorite Romantic Movies”

This post wins because it’s received the most comments of all posts I’ve ever put up. Originally, I was going to put this in the Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, but it really has been the most popular post I’ve had, at least in terms of comments.

Most Controversial Piece – “Reaction to Oscar Nominations”

The title alone offers proof that it’s an entirely subjective post based off bias. Like every year when the Oscar nominations are announced, the blogosphere is filled with everyone’s thoughts and reactions. This post received the most “critical” comments, primarily thoughtful comments that wouldn’t be considered all around controversial.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece – “Women in the Director’s Chair”

I was incredibly surprised come last New Year’s to learn that my post “Women in the Director’s Chair” had received the most views of all the posts from 2011 (I’ll admit – there weren’t a lot of posts that year, however.). My favorite part of the post is the video I included; it’s about the Bechdel Test. Check out the video – you might learn something new 🙂

Most Underrated Piece – “AEOS Review: The Artist”

While I wouldn’t necessary call a post of mine “underrated” (because who’s doing the rating then? me?), if I could pick one post that I’d like more people to read, it would be about The Artist. Why is this? Because I feel like the movie didn’t have a mainstream audience. Although it was met with much critical acclaim and chatter online, the average attender of this film was either older or a movie geek. I’m quite passionate (everyone gets dramatic about something these days, come on!) about The Artist and would have loved to have successfully convinced many of my friends to go see it.

Most Pride-Worthy Piece – “Recast Edition: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)”

I thought I might have a difficult time coming up with a post that I had any pride in writing, but once I saw this title, I knew it fit the bill. While most people have written off Dr. Horrible as a nerd-type thing, I think it could be more universally liked if people gave it a chance. Although I don’t mind being considered part of the Dr. Horrible fanbase at all! Aside from that, this was my first ‘Recast Edition’ post. It was a lot of fun to write, and it took a lot of consideration and time to put together.

Part 3 – Awards Ceremony

Now the really fun part comes – I get to nominate 7 other blogs to receive this 7 x 7 Link Award. Please check out these awesome blogs! Most of their writers put more time and love into them than I do into mine. Many of them have inspired me to write better, more meaningful, and interesting posts, and all of them have in some way contributed to All Eyes on Screen by either regularly reading or commenting and feeding the discussion on the site.

FlixChatter

Without question, Ruth over at FlixChatter has been an incredible inspiration for All Eyes on Screen. Every one of Ruth’s posts are filled with interesting information, videos, facts, reviews, tidbits–all on film–you name it. Her site introduced me to the movie community at Anomalous Material, where I’ve “met” the majority of my movie blogging friends. Her site is custom designed, and her writing style is easy to read. She’s constantly updating the site, responding to comments, and filling the site with thoughtful posts.

The Matinee

Ryan over at The Matinee is another one of my favorite movie sites to visit regularly. I love the crisp, clean look of his site, and I enjoy listening to his podcasts from time to time. This guy is always open for film discussion, with something positive or interesting to add. His level of writing is incredibly professional, yet very conversational. Ryan is one of the few bloggers I think could make a living writing about film given the right platform. Check out his site, and spare a few minutes to listen to one of his podcasts.

Expressions

One of my coworkers, Josh, heads this photography site called Expressions. If you want to see creatively shot photos, this is the site to visit. Each photo is a story, bearing a fitting caption. I have bought three photos from Josh and know that my JLS photo collection is still incomplete. If you’re searching for inspiration or just want to check out some awesome photos, be sure to check out Expressions.

Grass Roots Movement

Remember a little post called “Support an Independent Film”? Well, the filmmaker in that post, Melanie, also has this incredibly detailed and insightful blog called Grass Roots Movement. While personal posts/tidbits are added throughout, she holds a very firm view on a variety of topics, and she has this edgy writing style that immediately pulls in readers. She also posts about film on occasion. I promise that Grass Roots Movement will never bore you.

Keith & the Movies

Keith & the Movies is one of the movie sites I’ve recently become a regular reader of. If you’re looking for well-written, thoughtful film reviews, Keith & the Movies is the place to go. Each review contains outside information about the film that I never knew until I would read a post of his. They’re not too short, but the posts are also not too long that you get bored reading. Keith & the Movies is one of my favorite movie reviews sites to read.

I Love That Film

Pete from I Love That Film is perhaps one of the most loyal readers and supporters of All Eyes on Screen. And on top of all that, Pete heads his movie blog, I Love That Film, with a variety of posts on film on a regular basis. I love reading his opinions and jabs and quirky insight, and I have no doubt that the rest of his readers feel similarly. From reading I Love That Film, you’ll learn that Pete is incredibly funny, down-to-earth, and always game for movie discussion.

Cinema Romantico

This awards list would NOT be complete without Cinema Romantico, headed by a very talented writer named Nick. He’s the most passionate movie writer I’ve met on the blogosphere, and that’s saying something. He writes the most in-depth posts I’ve read about film, and he holds all the potential in the world to be a famous movie critic someday if he desired. He has a heck of a lot of insight and knows exactly how to say what he wants. In my opinion, Cinema Romantico is a must-read blog for any movie geek out there.

The Hunger Games . . . It’s Everywhere . . . Make It Stop!

There’s been so much hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games lately. My parents went to Hawaii last week, including during the opening of the movie “the world will be watching.” Neither of my parents are into fiction. Neither of them watch a lot of movies, or really get into current trends. Yet when I talked to them last night, both of them kept saying how everyone over in Hawaii was talking about the film! “The Hunger Games this and The Hunger Games that,” they kept saying.

I went to see the film this past weekend with four friends. I commented on multiple posts by several good blogging friends who saw the film and put in their two cents about it on the blogosphere. I talked to friends at work who want to see it. I noticed that my ten-year-old piano student had started reading the book yesterday. I walked into my old high school a couple weeks ago and talked to a couple students, one of which was reading the third book in the series. When I walked into the gymnasium of my previous church, there was a Hunger Games book sitting on one of the bleachers. I go on Facebook and read that one of my friends is asking for book recommendations . . . except for The Hunger Games (which made me laugh).

Last summer, I walked into a Borders bookstore that would soon be going out of business. One of the first book stands held several copies of the first Hunger Games book. I picked up a copy, never having heard anything about the series except for possibly the name in passing. I noticed that it was only $4 and figured, why not? If I hate the book, I’ve wasted only $4. So I bought it on a whim, never expecting to enjoy it. A month later, I had finished it (I’m not THAT slow of a reader–it just took me a while to get into it.). So I bought the second and then the third book, and by the time I had finished the third (which took me a grand total of 2 days), I was passing the series on to my sister and my friends, who mentioned it to their friends. This past January, I met with five other friends who had read the series and we discussed the themes, asked questions, and came up with “if this had happened, what would you do” type scenarios.

And now it’s all this “the odds will be ever in your favor” and “the world is watching” stuff. And I don’t want to complain about that–it’s marketing, and I think they hit the bullseye when they really pushed it through social media, namely Facebook. It seemed like there was a Hunger Games campaign everywhere, with no escape of it.

I’ll happily admit it–I thoroughly enjoyed the books. Whether I compare the series to other series or not, I can honestly say I enjoyed them. They’re interesting, there is a level of depth to them and to the characters, and I considered the books to be well-written. And despite a few minor quips, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. So much so, that I’ll probably see it again in theaters one more time.

All of this leads me to asking a few questions–when something is so highly marketed, when something is trending so much, gaining so much popularity at the time, do you enjoy riding the popularity wave with it, or would you rather wait it out and then get into it? Or how do you react when you “got” into something far earlier than the rest of the world? Does it frustrate you when people hop the bandwagon because it’s cool or popular, when you actually devoted time to a series way back when few had even heard of it? Is there a different sense of appreciation there?

I had a friend who enjoyed reading the Twilight series, but after it became this HUGE deal that was more about Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson, the idea of liking Twilight almost became embarrassing because of the crazy trend that it became. It was no longer some light story Stephanie Meyer composed–it was this tween love triangle that primarily attracted flocks of junior high girls rushing to the theater on opening night.

It seems nearly impossible for a film to take a popular book series (or original source material) and not change the status of the story, and particularly the way its viewed, these days. Would more adults be attracted to The Hunger Games if the series was in the Adult section and not the Young Adult section of a store? Film is a powerful, powerful (so powerful, I had to say it twice three times) medium to tell stories today.

How does marketing play such a huge role today in “who goes to see what” today? Does a popular film make you want to go see it, or does its mass popularity detract you from getting involved? Would you prefer to get into something when it isn’t trending, or do you enjoy being a part of something popular at the time?

AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

The phrase, “The Truman Show Meets Gladiator,” was dubbed by Chicago film critic, Richard Roeper, in his review of the vastly marketed picture The Hunger Games, which opened this past weekend.

I make a regular habit of reading/watching film reviews by my two favorite Chicago film critics, the internationally acclaimed critic, Roger Ebert, and one of the guys Ebert used to rate films with–the above mentioned Richard Roeper. Although I have to hand it to Ebert for staying on top of more film and pop culture than any other critic I’m aware of, I’ve got to hand the torch for The Hunger Games to Roeper in this case, because unlike Ebert, Roeper read The Hunger Games series and was able to better review the film as a viewer, critic, and fan of the books. Do check out Roeper’s review below.

There’s a lot I can say about the film, so let me break it up into parts. Keep in mind that there will be SPOILERS. First, let’s get out of the way what I didn’t like.

What Didn’t Work

  • Poor Visual Quality for The Capitol – Unfortunately, the special effects did nothing for me in the middle section of the film. Gary Ross’s vision of The Capitol hardly lived up to Collins’s description. From the fake screens passing through the windows of the train, to the far-off screen shot of the tributes riding in on chariots to the ceremony, to Katniss’s Capitol quarters, the film lacked visual prowess, color, and quality overall. I was hoping Ross would have pulled out all the stops for the film, but the setting of The Capitol fell short.
  • Madge and Plutarch MIA – Madge– This complaint comes from someone who read the book. The introduction of the Mockingjay pin is given by District 12’s mayor’s daughter, Madge, who befriends Katniss in the series. In the first book, she gives this to Katniss. Instead the film attempts to make up for this poor revision by having Greasy Sae hand Katniss the pin in the Hob. Plutarch– My sister brought up this point to me. Although I wouldn’t regard this as a dealbreaker or major fault on Ross’s end, I have to wonder why Mr. Plutarch wasn’t present within the film given that his role becomes more pertinent to the plot in the following sequels. My conclusion is that they’ll bring him along in the later films, and they didn’t regard him as necessary in the first.
  • Low Katniss/Peeta Screen Time – While many fans are overjoyed to not have another one of their beloved series taken over by a tween love triangle, the two leads of The Hunger Games shared fewer scenes together than what I had hoped for. Although film is a rather limited channel for time in telling a story (well, Peter Jackson defied that problem with LOTR. I digress.), Katniss and Peeta’s relationship–or should I say the relationship put on for show–wasn’t built well enough to convince us that the love displayed between Katniss and Peeta wasn’t entirely false. Katniss is confused, and we grasp that a little at the end; but watching the film, we don’t see enough of a relationship or friendship built between Katniss and Peeta to know that Katniss isn’t entirely genuine. Her actions are questionable, and rightfully so, but they’re questionable for the wrong reason. Instead of wondering whether she really has genuine feelings for Peeta or not, we’re questioning how she could be having feelings for him having not shared many scenes with him on screen.
  • 50% Finale – Did anyone else take notice that the third part of Suzanne Collins’s novel ate up over half of the film’s running time? Put in perspective – Each of The Hunger Games novels are built like a play, each having three acts. “The Games” acts as the third and final act of the first book. The games took up half the film. Many little moments were lost within the first half of the film, most likely the plan being – let’s really make the “the games” the movie. I hope they don’t botch up the second film like this.

What Did Work

I was more than content with everything else in the film. Clocking in at a little over 140 minutes, The Hunger Games still felt short to me in comparison to reading the book. The adaptation of the story from book to film, however, along with its flaws, was still crafted with sharp attention to detail and articulated in a way not to bring justice to the book, but more so to the story and its characters. Going into The Hunger Games, I expected to experience more low points than high. Happily proven wrong, here are the points I consider high in the film.

  • The Entire Supporting Cast – Perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts to graze the screen of a teen series turned major film–Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland–these were the people who really made The Hunger Games a hit aside from the incredible Jennifer Lawrence heading them.
  • Every Scene with Caesar Flickerman – Every scene with the blue-haired Stanley Tucci on screen was met with laughter. Since The Hunger Games is told entirely from Katniss’s perspective, we miss out on everyone else’s personal thoughts. Not so in the film. Flickerman serves not only as host and questioner of the tributes, but also as something of a news anchor who worked as narrator, offering updates every now and then. This was well-placed in the script, aiding to the pacing of the film and answering questions of those who haven’t read the book.

  • Casting – I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. The casting worked really well in The Hunger Games, despite the highly questioned Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Winter’s Bone is enough to support the widely-ranged actress, and her performance in The Hunger Games speaks only more of her talent to capture the necessary emotions as well as play out the action scenes. Josh Hutcherson has an innocent presence on screen. Perhaps because he’s a little shorter and has the cutest face ever, but he looks the part of Peeta enough. His acting backed the casting choice.
  • The Games – The Games section of the film was the focus of the film, and easily the best part. Full of intensity and grit, viewers sense the dire situation Katniss and Peeta are in. It’s life and death, and it’s kids we’re dealing with here. Ross really placed the heart of the film into this section, unmasking the rage of the characters, dotting the film with more attention and detail here than anywhere else.
  • Movie Additions – Watching Seneca Crane administrate actions behind the scenes or seeing Haymitch snatch a deal from sponsors on behalf of Katniss and Peeta were treats for those who read the books. We were able to appreciate the element of surprise, too, in the crafty, creative way President Snow killed off Seneca Crane in the end. It’s rare to admit that a movie scene added to the story rather than take away from it.
  • Rue’s Death Scene – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, the raw emotion Katniss emitted, the flowers decorating Rue’s body, the signal Katniss gave toward the camera, the uproar in District 11 following the death–a powerful scene in a seemingly depressing story–followed the book pat, refusing to give a PG version of what happened.
  • Attention to Detail  While some parts could have been stronger, I must admit there were little details only readers would especially appreciate. Notice how Katniss always tied herself in a tree to sleep so she wouldn’t fall out? Appreciate that Katniss decorated Rue’s body with flowers? See that white rose on President Snow? Katniss’s orange backpack? Cinna’s gold eyelids?

Favorite Moments

  • The powerful scene featuring the uproar in District 11
  • A rock that turned out to be . . . Peeta?!?! (The name Peter is translated in the Greek, meaning “rock.” Ironic much?)
  • The theater erupting in laughter when the camera panned on Gale watching Katniss kiss Peeta.
  • Rue in the tree signaling the trackerjacker hive to Katniss.
  • “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.” –Cinna
  • “That is mahogany!” –Effie
  • Peeta: “You’re our mentor. Don’t you have any advice?” Haymitch: “Yes. Embrace the probability of your imminent death.”

Final Thoughts/Queries

  • MPAA Rating – My biggest question and thought following my first viewing of The Hunger Games regards its MPAA rating. Yes, it was rated PG-13, so some parts had to be cut back to take away from the grisly violence of kids ultimately killing each other. I have to wonder what the film would have been like had it been rated R in terms of violence. Roger Ebert mentions in his review how it’s actually silent in the opening part of the games, with kids dropping like flies. While the scene is powerful, I tend to wonder if the sound was taken out in order to keep the PG-13 rating. It only makes sense to keep the rating no higher than PG-13 in order to not cut out the target audience of the film. But if there were an extended or R-rated version of the film, I wonder which scenes would be different. Would Clove actually cut Katniss’s lip when she has her pinned down? Would Peeta actually have a far more severe leg injury? Would we hear the effects of an arrow piercing a child, or a knife cutting flesh?
  • The Bar Is Set for Sequels – With the growing success of the film, how will the sequels play out? Will they pale in comparison, or will they rise above? Compared with other series such as Harry Potter, whose finale rated high, will The Hunger Games be able to top itself in its sequels, or go down in popularity?
  • Will Gary Ross Continue? – Unless I have misheard (a high possibility in itself), no director is set for Catching Fire, although a release date of November 22, 2013 has already been announced! Should Ross direct the sequels? I certainly think so. Other series have proven that a consistent continuity strengthens–not diminishes–from film series.

OK, folks. Lots of questions for you now. First, what did you think of the film? Second, what did you like, and what disappointed you? Have any favorite moments? Consider the final thoughts and add your opinion.

Guest Post — Accomplished Directors and Their Film Debuts

My friend, Matt, has gladly agreed to guest post once again for me so I can have a little break from blogging. Last month, he did multiple Q/A blog post sessions on the Oscars with me. He’s an excellent writer and he continues to build his film knowledge with research, discussion, and film viewing. Be sure to check out his bio at the bottom of the page to get more acquainted with who he is and what he’s been up to.

–Kristin

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By Matthew Roth

Ever heard of Firelight, The Bellboy and the Playgirls, or The Pleasure Garden? How about Piranha Part 2: The Spawning? What if I told you those were the debut features of the men who brought us Schindler’s List, The Godfather, Rear Window, and Avatar? Everybody has to start somewhere. It’s enjoyable to see a filmmaker’s creative process from first feature to Lifetime Achievement Award. Some filmmakers seem like they were born to make movies; others really have to work to become great.

Film should be studied the way we study any other art. In most cases, we can’t look at movies on an individual basis; the study of film should always come back to the author of the picture, perhaps a producer or writer, but usually a director. Just as you wouldn’t study The Great Gatsby without learning about F. Scott Fitzgerald, so you shouldn’t view a film without, at some point, doing a little research about the director and his body of work.

Someone recently made a statement online saying that the director spends his life trying to make the perfect version of the same movie. Obviously, that oversimplifies things; however, there still is a good deal of truth in that statement.

When studying film, it’s good to go back to a director’s first feature. What genres, techniques, visual styles, and themes inspired the author to start making pictures to begin with? Often you will find the things a director explores in his first film show up in many that follow; with each subsequent film, he tweaks characterization, plot, themes, and visuals in an attempt to create a perfect version of that first film.

Not every director is like this. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first features of some of the directors I admire, and how their debut film relates to their work today.

The Coen Brothers: Blood Simple

Usually, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what genre of film a Coen Brothers’ movie is. They include elements of the crime, comedy, drama, and thriller genres. Their films are a unique blend of those elements; in reality, the Coens have created their own genre. Ironically, Blood Simple is the only film by the Coen Brothers I’ve seen that is not instantly recognizable as a Coen Brothers’ movie. That’s not to say, however, that this film fails to match their future brilliance. As their movies tend to be, Blood Simple is extremely entertaining. It also contains elements that are prevalent in many Coen Brothers movies: an abrasive but memorable character; a wealthy, powerful man the audience loves to hate; an ordinary protagonist thrust into an extraordinary and dangerous situation; oh yeah–and loads of violence. Visually, the film’s style foreshadows their later work, even though the brothers were yet to team up with the fabulous Roger Deakins. Highly recommended.

Christopher Nolan: Following

Nolan’s first film is a thriller about a writer who follows people in order to acquire material for characters in his stories. As far as content, Nolan’s films have been fairly diverse. The constant of his work seems to be the non-linear structure in which he molds his stories. Following is cut up into several pieces randomly strewn about, its scenes jumping forward and backward on the story’s timeline. Often this would disorient an audience; with Nolan’s film, it sets the the audience on edge. Because of the vast, unexplained changes in the main character’s appearance (a black eye, a new haircut, different style of clothing), we become curious about the events we obviously have missed. Suspense is created through missing pieces. We pay closer attention because we want to find out just what we have missed. Nolan’s first feature seems like a dress rehearsal for Memento, a film in which the non-linear storytelling serves a justified purpose. Nolan uses a non-linear storytelling device once again in The Prestige. He masters this device in Inception, where he jumps between the past, and the many layers of the dream world’s present. Following is a wonderful debut film, proof that Nolan doesn’t need $185 Million to make a great movie. Great things can be done with as little as $6,000.

Terrence Malick: Badlands

Malick’s movies have been called many things. Polarizing things, really. Few directors simultaneousy carry the title “brilliant” and “pretentious.” Perhaps this is because Malick stretches the conventions of film in all of his movies. For those who find Malick more pretentious then brilliant, Badlands may be just the film for you. This film does contain both a plot AND a linear structure. While it is without a doubt his most accessible film, Malick’s debut feature is by no means conventional. You can find one of my favorite film blogger’s video review of  Badlands here.

In his first film Malick introduces us to the detached narrator, a device he would use to an even greater extent in his following feature, Days of Heaven. Narration can be a tricky business. To me, it usually seems like the easy way out in storytelling. Malick’s narration in Badlands proves how useful the device can be. Rather than using the narrator as a crutch, Malick’s narrator allows us to actually learn something about that character, not only in the things she does say, but also in the things she doesn’t. With great cinematography, acting, and a haunting score, Badlands may possibly be my favorite Malick film.

Alfred Hitchcock: Blackmail

So you probably know that this isn’t actually Hitchcock’s first film. The “Master of Suspense” did not always make thrillers; he worked his way up, sweating and toiling on–you’ll never guess it–romance pictures. The Pleasure Garden and Fear o’ God were both commercially unsuccessful. It wasn’t until Hitch started making the type of pictures for which we know him that he became a commercial success. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog was the first of his films we would label Hitchcockian. The Lodger is a film that tries to crack one of the most perplexing crimes of all time: the murder of Jack the Ripper. Now, I know I should have watched The Lodger; however, it was about 2 last night when I finally started watching. The online copy was horrible, so I opted to watch Hitch’s second thriller, and one of the first talkies in Britain, Blackmail. The first thing I noticed was Hitch’s use of the Kuleshov Effect, a now standard but once groundbreaking editing technique that Hitchcock popularized. The story is about a young girl who finds herself in a difficult situation after killing a man in an act of self defense. Many of Hitch’s movies involve normal people being thrust into dangerous situations due to their curiosity or foolishness. This film follows that pattern to the letter. Other sequences made me think of both Psycho and Vertigo. While it is a flawed film, I found it definitely worth my time. If you do view the film, you will find little snippets that foreshadow the greatness that was to come. You can view it on Hulu here.

For those of you not familiar with the Kuleshov Effect, the first two minutes of this video explain it a lot better than I could by writing about it.

What are some of your favorite debut films, and how do they (or don’t they) point to that director’s future work?

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Support an Independent Film

Hey all! I’ve never had a post like this one before.

I wanted to take the opportunity to spread the news about an independent film, but who better to tell you than the filmmaker herself?

Before you check out the video, a couple things about Melanie:

  • Melanie was a college roommate of mine for one semester. She isn’t a stranger.
  • Melanie shares the same passion for making film that many of you have for writing about it.
  • Melanie already has some experience in the field, and among her experience, research, and understanding of film, I think she has great potential to create film.

Watch the video and get all the info on Melanie’s film, The Lilith Necklace, here.

Melanie never asked me to post about her project, much less to promote it. I chose to do this because I’m a big fan of film and even in this small, insignificant way, I’d like to lend a supporting hand to another person who loves film. You, too, can help support Melanie and her film, The Lilith Necklace, by giving as little as $5, or just by sharing the project with other fellow film friends.

Melanie’s also a blogger! If you’d like to learn more about her, check out her blog Grassroots Movement.

Thanks for reading! Do you know anyone who has a film he’s working on? Feel free to share it!

Backstage Spotlight: Ten Facts about James Franco

The year 2010 really put James Franco in the spotlight. He starred in 127 Hours, got nominated for his first Academy Award, co-hosted the Oscars, and plunged into Hollywood spotlight, being recognized as the man of every trade, from painting, to getting his doctorate, to teaching on the college level, to acting in soap operas. It’s 2012 now and we haven’t heard much about the big guy of 2010 in quite a while. The tide changed, and Ryan Gosling became the man of 2011. Who’s to say who will be the big guy of 2012? I’m betting on JGL, seeing that he’ll be in five films this year. But that’s another story.

I decided now was a good time to write on Franco because he isn’t the man of the hour, but he’s significant enough in this generation that I think he’ll continue to do great things. I first thought of him when I was coming up with my favorite actors, and he would have made a great #6 on my list (The list is now updated to include him – check it!).

10. He looks and sounds a lot like his younger brother (shocker, right?).

I also thought of him this past weekend when I saw his younger brother, Dave, costar in the hilarious 21 Jump Street. The similarity between their looks and especially voices is uncanny!

9. He’s the Cameo King in my book.

James Franco might have more uncredited cameos than any other actors I’m aware of. The HolidayNights in RodantheThe Green HornetKnocked Up, 30 Rock, Date Night (OK, that’s the only one he was credited for). He’s either playing an action star, grieving son, mob boss, or hilariously arrogant version of himself. Check out his cameo in The Holiday below.

8. He’s a really funny guy.

With multiple videos on Funny or Die, Franco does everything from introducing us to his family, to crying about his cat, to giving “acting” lessons to his younger brother. Check out this lesson where he tried teaching his brother, Dave, about “green screen acting.”

7. He values education.

Anyone who has gone to college knows that credit loads exceeding the early 20s bracket are time-consuming at best. After a good glance at his Wikipedia page, I read that one semester Franco enrolled in “62 course credits per quarter compared to the normal limit of 19.” It’s pretty hard to believe this, so I decided to look up the source noted. I then proceeded to read a lengthy, but absolutely fascinating article written by Sam Anderson, published in New York Magazine back in July of 2010. In there, he cites that Franco, indeed, did take on the 62-credit load at UCLA, and following that, well, here, I’ll just let you read the excerpt from the article below:

As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.”

Yes, you read that right. Anderson goes on a funny rant following that, describing how Franco will become president and something to do with aliens, I think. The article is incredibly insightful, and worth a read if you’re even the slightest fan of Franco.

6. He’s a man of many every trade.

OK, so perhaps it is more accurate to describe Franco as a jack of many trades, not all. But it’s pretty unimaginable how he balances all of the graduate credits, the acting career, the interviews, the poetry writing, the teaching, the soap opera roles in a given day, week, month, and year. Does the guy sleep? Well, this picture was taken back a couple years ago, claiming that he’s quite the sleeper in class; although it was later revealed that he was attending an additional art seminar and was tired.

5. He worked at McDonald’s.

Before he took on a gazillion credits and studied at several major schools, he went to UCLA to get his undergraduate in English, but dropped out at age 19 to pursue acting. Since his parents did not support his decision to quite school in pursuit of an acting career, Franco had to support himself – and took a job at McDonald’s. Franco is quoted in this Entertainment Weekly article saying that after working at McDonald’s, he was no longer a vegetarian.

4. He’s won only one big award: Golden Globe for the titular role in James Dean.

Check out his acceptance speech at the ceremony. A couple fun things to notice in the video: first, he’s so young! second, the guy is incredibly modest; and third, did you catch that closing shot of a young Brad Pitt? Funny!

3. He’s up to star in the 2013 film, Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Intended to be a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi (also Franco’s director in the Spider-Man series) will be directing this fantasy take. It’s interesting how many people enjoy giving us “before” or “after” stories about The Wizard of Oz. Take the Gregory Maguire famous book series that insighted the national popular musical, Wicked. Will there be comparisons? Franco will be playing the lead role in the film, who, from what I’ve read, turns out to be the wizard. See for yourself by reading the synopsis below, courtesy of the film’s Wikipedia page:

Oz The Great and Powerful imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot with fame and fortune being his for the taking….that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity, and even a bit of wizardry, Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.

2. He produced and directed a documentary entitled “Saturday Night,” based on the behind-the-scenes of his two hosting stints for Saturday Night Live.

I was planning to embed a video for his SNL monologue when he hosted back in 2009, but I can’t find it anywhere on YouTube, so here’s the link (do check it out! it’s hilarious).

ArtsBeat gives their take on the documentary in this article. Here’s a video I have yet to watch; it’s a panel made up of Franco and some of the member from the Saturday Night Live cast at Tribeca.

1. He got a D . . . in an acting class.

Well, from what I learned from the video, it was a “directing actors” class, so technically it would be more of a directing class. Even so, you have to hand it to him for being ironic there. The sleeping photo does come up, but Franco explains the craziness behind how he got a D in the class to Roger Friedman. It’s interesting, and funny nonetheless.

Hope you learned something new about James Franco! I definitely did while researching. What are some interesting facts you learned about people in the film business?  

I’m Just a Boy Saying No Means No

Last night, I caught The Break Up on TBS and watched it because I hadn’t seen it before, and I knew Jenn Anniston and Vince Vaughn didn’t end up together in the end. Consensus? Annoying in parts, but altogether, a sense of reality in it that I appreciated. Then I started thinking through what other films didn’t end up with the couple getting together. The all-too-familiar (500) Days of SummerMy Best Friend’s Wedding. Up in the Air. A Google search later, I then recalled The Time Traveler’s Wife (separation by time travel), Titanic (death by a really big boat sinking), Nights in Rodanthe (separation by death – thanks once again, Nicholas Sparks), The Bourne Supremacy (separation by murder), or even Batman Begins or the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (separation by a “higher calling” – I always laughed at the end when Spiderman refused Mary-Jane. I know, what’s wrong with me?).

And then I thought, hey, what if we could mess with the endings of those movies with the happily-ever-afters, and make them not happily-ever-after? Are there films that would be better off where the guy and girl didn’t get together? I think so. Here’s a list of movies with couples that I would not let them end up together, whether it’s just for kicks and giggles, or because I never would have put those two people together in the first place.

Eddie and Paige in The Prince and Me

Eddie (Luke Mably) and Paige (Julia Stiles) were never meant to be together. One was meant to run a country, the other was meant for higher education. There never should have been a second and third sequel to this film, with the main roles getting changed out each time. The idea was simple and sweet enough in the beginning, but having a future king of a country return to the states and let a girl know that he’ll wait “however long it takes,” just isn’t realistic, much less workable. Talk about pressure on the girl!

Aragorn and Arwen in The Return of the King

I wish that Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) would have directed the words “I cannot give you what you seek” to Arwen (Liv Tyler) and not to Eowyn (Miranda Otto). I have yet to finish reading The Return of the King, but from a movie viewer perspective, I would have rather cheered on Aragorn kissing Eowyn in the end than Arwen. Both Eowyn and Aragorn have that whole fighting warrior thing down, and they definitely have an immediate chemistry when they meet.

Bryan and Annie in Father of the Bride

I’m on the dad’s side (Steve Martin) from the beginning. Although Annie (Kimberly Williams-Paisely) getting engaged to Bryan (George Newbern) and planning a crazy wedding makes for an interesting premise, in the end, I rather have seen Bryan be sent on his way than sadly watching George struggle to share a moment with Annie after the wedding. Any guy who starts putting his hand on a girl’s leg in front of her father the first time he meets him isn’t classy or smart.

Henry and Danielle in Ever After

This is more for comical reasons than any other. So Danielle’s (Drew Barrymore) a liar and Henry’s (Dougray Scott) a jerk. The two have flaws, but seemingly are perfect for each other. But what would have happened had Henry chosen Marguerite over Danielle? I could imagine the film ending with rain lightly tapping the glass slipper, the camera zooming out, and the step-mother (Anjelica Huston) laughing manically in the background. You have to admit you’re curious now, right?

William and Anna in Notting Hill

And now the title of this post becomes relevant. The titular line in Notting Hill is told by Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) to William (Hugh Grant): “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” What if William’s response was, “Well I’m just a boy, and no means no.” A little harsh, sure, but then again, to reject that line altogether–and spoken by the most famous movie star at the time–was a little harsh. I appreciated the idea of a normal person rejecting a movie star. It made sense. But then again, he showed a more human element of himself when he begged to have her back.

Jake and Melanie in Sweet Home Alabama

This choice may really make people mad. Frankly, I’m OK with the movie’s ending. I mean, if had to choose between Patrick Dempsey and Josh Lucas, I would struggle too. I get it, two people reconnected through the South and family and life. But what about poor Andrew (Patrick Dempsey)? He didn’t do anything wrong, yet he gets rejected in the end. Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) accepted his proposal! It’s like watching an episode of The Bachelorette, and Melanie changing her mind after the final rose.

OK, I’m fresh out of ideas. Your turn – who would you have liked to see break up, or never end up together? Or how about the reverse – was there ever a couple you wish would have gotten together in the end?  Sound off in the comments.

Week of Favorites: Composers

In the past few years, I’ve really taken to collecting film scores when I can afford it. It’s amazing to think that I had an even MORE difficult time compiling a favorites list of film composers than I did for actors or actresses. When it comes down to it–and I hope if you haven’t read anything else I’ve written, that you read this–that picking favorite film composers for the average movie lover is something that really comes down to the thought, what do you like to listen to? For someone who grew up playing many instruments and being involved in music frequently, I still lack that intuitive knowledge that would say, This is a good soundtrack because of X reason. At the end of the day, these composers are on this list because I really favor one or multiple scores of theirs.

John Williams

I’m not ranking John Williams on this (even though it is just a FAVORITES LIST) because I don’t think he ought to be ranked. He’s composed some of the greatest scores of our time and is a household name today. He’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking a few notes and creating a memorable melody that is remixed decades later for film remakes. On Williams’s 80th birthday, I posted about him in more detail. You can check out that post here.

6. Daft Punk

Since it’s nearly impossible to find a normal picture of Daft Punk, please enjoy this light-up dance routine to one of the tracks from TRON: Legacy.

Again, I struggled having only five composers on my list. It’s ironic that Daft Punk even makes this list considering that they have scored the soundtrack for only one film. The clincher for me is that it is one of my favorite scores I have listened to on repeat constantly, and I can’t find any other scores even comparable: TRON: Legacy. For two years, the duo that makes up Daft Punk–Frenchman Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter–collaborated with Joseph Trapanese, an arranger and composer who lives in LA. The score is performed by an 85-piece orchestra that combines both electronic and orchestral sounds. Daft Punk has released other types of albums, yet I hope that more film scores are in their future.

5. Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman is really a darkhorse pick even in terms of favorite composers of mine, because I haven’t heard a whole lot by him. After learning that he’s actually partially composed several scores, such as being the music programmer for The Da Vinci Code, the music arranger for The Dark Knight, and contributing to the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, I consider Jackman to be more of an up and comer in the film composition industry. Jackman has worked under the strong direction of Hans Zimmer, who’s been referred to as Jackman’s mentor in the past. Jackman’s also helped write the score for Zimmer’s The Holiday, as well as the scores for the films Vantage Point and Monsters vs. Aliens. He’s recently started to head his own projects, the most memorable being his rich, intense score for last year’s X-Men: First Class. It was one of my favorite soundtrack scores of last year; you can read more about it in this previous post.

4. Nancy Wilson

To many, Nancy Wilson may be considered an odd choice given that she’s known more as a rock musician. According to her IMDB profile, Wilson has performed or written tracks for over 20 films. In terms of film composing, however, her number is quite a bit smaller: four films. Previously married to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, Wilson lended her film composing skills to several of his films, including Jerry Maguire, Almost FamousVanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown. I’m still convinced that Crowe went directly with Jonsi only for the score of We Bought a Zoo because he no longer has Wilson to collaborate with, but that’s just me speculating. Despite only composing for four films (some of which have only one or two tracks), Wilson still makes my favorites list because I’m a big fan of each of her tracks on each album. She mainly works with only acoustic guitar, and there’s a very earthy, deep feel to the sound. My recommendation is to check out her Elizabethtown score. I talk about it a little more in this post. It’s my favorite!

3. Hans Zimmer

This list would be incomplete without the addition of Hans Zimmer. He reminds me of the Peter Jackson of the film composition world because he’s so open and communicative with his fans. Zimmer has collaborated with other brilliant film composers, such as Klaus Badelt on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scores as well as James Newton Howard (one who barely missed this list!) on Christopher Nolan’s batman films. Zimmer has won multiple awards, although he’s won only one Academy Award in his time (crazy or what?!) for The Lion King in 1994. His award-winning (and nominated) film scores tend to be his most well-known, such as GladiatorThe Last Samurai, and Inception. His colleagues at DreamWorks, who Zimmer happens to be head of the music division there, include both legendary film composers John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, who composed the memorable, uplifting score for The Chronicles of Narnia films. Zimmer is also known for his collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, having joint-composed (if that can be a term) for Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises with Newton Howard and composing for the critically-acclaimed film, Inception. My current favorite film scores of Zimmer’s are for Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Inception.

2. Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman has a giant resume of film scores that I’ve never listened to, yet he makes it so high on this list because I’ve very much enjoyed the ones I have heard. He’s clearly at the top of his game right now composing for multiple films almost every year since 1980! Elfman is known for his collaboration with director Tim Burton, having composed for almost every one of Burton’s films. One of the most epic film score themes that earned Elfman a Grammy was the theme for Burton’s Batman in 1989. Elfman has been nominated four times for an Academy Award and has yet to win one. Because of his previous time spent in a rock band, Elfman has suffered hearing loss, which reminds me a little of Beethoven (that is, it’s interesting that great people in music needlessly work in the industry in spite of having poor hearing! crazy!). My favorite scores of his are for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series.

1. Alan Silvestri

The biggest reason Alan Silvestri is in my number one slot is that he composed my favorite score tracks I have heard. It seems that some of the biggest directors and film composers have tag-teamed in their collaborations to make films. Robert Zemeckis is the director who has acted as Silvestri’s main collaborater, Silvestri having scored for twelve of Zemeckis’s films. Silvestri has won two Grammys, one for the song “Believe” in The Polar Express, and one for the theme song to Cast Away in the Best Instrumental Composition category. Silvestri’s been nominated only twice for an Academy Award, once for Best Score for Forrest Gump and once for Best Original Song in The Polar Express. I think it’s a wonder that he can so strongly compose and write for two incredibly different segments of music, be it instrumental scores or writing an original song. You can look forward to hearing the score for the upcoming Avengers film coming out in May of this year. I can narrow down my favorites of Silvestri’s film scores to the Back to the Future series, Cast Away theme song, Forrest Gump, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

OK, who’s your favorite film composer(s)? What do you think of my choices? And most importantly, what tracks/albums/composer recommendations do you have for me? 🙂

Week of Favorites: Actresses

Thinking about who my favorite actresses are as opposed to who my favorite actors are was a very different process. Since I’m more established with which actors’ performances I value and enjoy the most, as well as the films that star said actors (more so than actresses in general), I have a VERY different list of actresses on my list. By no means am I claiming these are the best actresses, but for me personally, they happen to be favorites of mine.

6. Queen Latifah

This list was actually so hard for me to compile, that I had to include a sixth entry. It was impossible for me to leave Queen Latifah off this list. She’s put in some hilarious and enjoyable supporting performances in Stranger Than FictionWhat Happens in VegasThe Dilemma, Valentine’s Day, and Mad Money, while lending her voice to film-adapted musicals like Hairspray and Chicago, and occasionally starring in her own films, such as Just Wright and The Last Holiday. Although I don’t care for some of the films she’s been in, I typically appreciate Latifah’s role because she’s very good at playing character and supporting roles. Queen Latifah exudes confidence, and I’m always impressed with the depth and capacity she has to be either humorous, dramatic, or serious.

5. Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst was a tough one to put on the list because I’ve seen only some of her work. I’ve yet to see her talked-about performance in Melancholia, but I can say that I grew up watching her in Interview with the Vampire, JumanjiLittle WomenBring It On, The Virgin Suicides, and Tower of Terror. I think she has a very different look and air about her that seems to separate her from the masses. I didn’t much care for her portrayal of Mary-Jane Watson in the Spiderman series although I think a lot of it has to do with how her role was written. She’s played several parts that have shown off her range, from her role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Marie Antoinette. My personal favorite role of hers is in Elizabethtown.

4. Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts is one of those actresses who played iconic roles in her time and really established herself. My like for her really goes back to my like of almost all the actors I put on my favorites list in my previous post. I think she’s this timeless actress, almost elevated above many who have tried to do what she has. Roberts really had a way of defining a leading lady in the romcoms of the 90s. For me, she makes this list because I’ve seen several of her films, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her on screen. I think some actresses are easier to enjoy watching than others. My favorite film of hers is somewhere between My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill, although Pretty Woman comes in at a close third.

3. Reese Witherspoon

The first film I saw Reese Witherspoon in was Legally Blonde, and I knew from there on out that I was going to like her. Although she’s dabbled in some flimsier films from time to time, she’s quite strong in both comedy and drama, and I think she’s excellent at showing vulnerability on screen. Her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line is one of her best performances, and she has an Academy Award to show off for it. I will admit that I haven’t seen several of her films, but from the ones I have seen, I typically enjoy watching her in, although How Do You Know is a gross exception. I’m excited to see her take on some new projects and hope she continues to make smart choices.

2. Drew Barrymore

Saturday Night Live has accurately made fun of Drew Barrymore, and it’s almost understandable given Barrymore’s unusual voice or accent. One of the movies I watched over and over again as a kid was Ever After, a loose take on Cinderella. Barrymore certainly isn’t the prettiest girl who could play a Cinderella-like character, but she was every bit believable as a Danielle who fell in love with a prince. I much enjoyed her 90s through early 2000s films, especially The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed. What I enjoy most about her is that she’s comes across very human and relatable in her performances, at least the films in which I’ve seen her in. I definitely think she has a different look (and obviously sound) to her, but at the end of the day she’s really just this funny person who enjoys acting.

1. Emma Stone

I almost want to smack myself for choosing Emma Stone because she’s only 24 years old with what now appears to be a long career ahead of her. I’ve seen almost all of her movies and I will readily admit that if she’s in a movie, I would probably go just for the sake of seeing her. It really wasn’t Easy A that made me totally dig Emma Stone, even though I thought she was pretty awesome in that (also, that’s the kind of teen comedy I can deal with today). I think she’s absolutely hilarious and not afraid to do some silly things on screen, even if she might look stupid. Stone is easily my favorite character in The House Bunny, a rather pointless fluff movie, but entertaining nonetheless with Stone trying to “attract” guys by spraying herself with a hose. She played the “it” girl in Zombieland and the annoying, weird girl in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (you caught her in that, right?). The year 2011 really skyrocketed Stone’s career (and name) when she starred in two big hitting films, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help. I can imagine Emma Stone becoming the Julia Roberts or maybe more so, the Sandra Bullock, of her time as she ages and takes on more roles.

OK, it’s your turn. Who are your favorite actresses? Does my list sound as crazy to you as it does in my head? Don’t answer that.

Week of Favorites: Actors

The great thing about film is that there are so many aspects to appreciate, favoring specific tracks on soundtracks to cinematographers to performances to directors. Another great part about film is that it’s always evolving, introducing new actors, rehashing old story plots, improving technology. There are always new and old films to watch and rewatch, new introductions to characters to be made, new soundtracks worth listening to, and so on.

After a stroke of writers’ block, I decided to get back to the basics and post my “Favorite Five” of various film categories each day this week, today starting with my five current favorite actors. While over time (and with more films to view), I’m sure my favorites will change over time, but for now, these are my five six favorites. Stay tuned for favorite actresses, films, and other favorite lists coming up this week.

6. James Franco

I’m of the belief that James Franco will become one of the best actors of the younger generations. He’s still only in his 30s, but he already has a rocking resume that boasts plenty of potential. He’s done everything successfully, from the big screen to the small screen to soaps to hosting the Oscars, and yet he pulls it all off with incredible charisma. I really enjoyed him playing the sharp, confused Harry Osborne in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, although I was especially blown away by his Oscar performance in 127 Hours. I still laugh at him in Never Been Kissed, watching the then-unfamous, unrecognized Franco spout off a couple forgettable one-liners in the background. Who would have figured him to have embodied James Dean only two years later? There’s loads more of positive things I could say about him, so I would direct you to my spotlight post on him here.

5. Tom Cruise

Coming in at my number 5 slot is none other than Tom Cruise. He may not be the most popular person in real life, but on screen, he’s one of my favorites. I tend to lean more toward his 90s or early 2000s films, such as A Few Good MenVanilla Sky, and my favorite of his, Jerry McGuire. He also established himself through the Mission Impossible franchise, his latest film hitting theaters only in December of last year. He’s versatile enough to be playing action hero or dramatic lead, and he brings an intensity to each role that he plays. I found him unusually funny in Interview with the Vampire, easily outdoing his popular co-star Brad Pitt. Although Risky Business wasn’t my favorite film, I still appreciated Cruise’s hilarious performance back when he was younger. The guy ceases to age physically, as Richard Roeper tweeted during the Oscars that Cruise has aged at least 3 years in the past 30.

4. Matt Damon

Matt Damon is another hard hitter, although he’s often overlooked for George Clooney or Brad Pitt. While both the latter are good actors in their own ways, there’s this drama and insight that I see more in Damon. He embodied a newer, more interesting, James Bond-like character as Jason Bourne in the Bourne series, but he really won me over with his stunning and moving performance in Good Will Hunting. He’s transitioned from action star to more fatherly roles in his more recent films, and he balances them well. He works well as both a supporting and leading man in film, and I’m excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

3. Will Smith

Part of me leans toward Smith because I grew up watching Fresh Prince and I dug his humor. He lights up the screen in whatever film he’s in. Smith either fights off the bad guys or moves you to tears. He also does a nice job of staying out of the limelight despite being married to an incredible actress and raising two kids that are turning in careers of their own. Since 2005, Smith has acted as producer for all of the films he’s collaborated with. My favorite films of his are currently Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith is one of the few actors who seem to hold a strong grip on comedy, action, and drama films, making him one of the more flexible actors in Hollywood today. I don’t care much for the Men in Black franchise, but I look forward to him taking on newer projects in the future.

2. Jim Carrey

One of my favorite actors of all time is Jim Carrey. He tends to play character actors in most of humorous roles, but he’s also created new funny guys such as Bruce Almighty. Carrey is probably known best for his funniest films: Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber, or The Cable Guy. It’s often said that comedic actors struggle to cross over into drama; that may be true, but Carrey would be an exception. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Truman Show to The Majestic to The Number 23, Carrey could be considered a dramatic actor every bit as much of a comedic one. He’s turned in multiple performances that make you question how someone can so effectively walk the line between comedy and drama and come out as successful as he has on both ends.

1. Tom Hanks

When I was thinking through some of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks was the first to come to mind. I grew up watching him in Big and Turner and Hooch and Sleepless in Seattle, and I loved how he was really the everyman in his films. I’ve always found Hanks to be a relatable guy in most of the roles he embodied, and that’s what always attracted me to his films. He’s won two Oscars and I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t through with winning big awards yet. He’s starred in some of the most memorable films, from Forrest Gump to The Green Mile to Philadelphia to one of my favorite films of his, Saving Private Ryan. He seems to have done a little bit of everything, from voicing the iconic animated character Woody in the incredibly successful Pixar franchise Toy Story, to working with CGI animation in The Polar Express, to bringing The Da Vinci Code books to life, to playing a man stuck in an airport in The Terminal. Hanks is one of those actors who will do most anything, even gaining a significant amount of weight, acting against himself, and talking to a volleyball in my favorite film of his, Cast Away.

Who are your favorite actors? What makes them so good to you? Who holds your top spot?